"} Get a life, Get active! By Fit Lesley: Challenge 3 - Coast to Coast Cycle Ride - August 2011

Challenge 3 - Coast to Coast Cycle Ride - August 2011

Day One - Tuesday 23rd August 2011

My initial plans had been to cycle the route from Whitehaven to Tynemouth over 3 days, spending the first night at Penrith (where my parents live) and the second night at Stanhope. With this in mind we booked a nice hotel for 2 nights near Stanhope, the first night being during the ride and the second night as a recuperation stay on the way home! However, as the day approached and after completing several long training rides I decided the leg to Penrith was going to be too short to be challenging and altered my plans. Plan B was to cycle the route in 2 days, getting just past half way on the first day to Nenthead. My long suffering husband would pick me up in Nenthead, taxi me home for a night in my own bed then return me to the same spot the next morning. Then I would have a 2 night recuperation stay in the hotel already booked! I’d become obsessive with checking the long term weather forecast which altered daily from the extremes of “Sunny” to a weather warning of “ heavy rain and thunder and lightning “ so felt relief when the day finally arrived. I woke early feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation of what lay ahead. I lay in bed listening to see if I could hear whether there was any “Pitter patter” against the window and prayed for fine weather. This was going to be a big enough challenge for me without doing it in the rain! I decided there was only one thing for it – I got up and peered out the window! The ground was wet, the sky was grey … it wasn’t actually raining anymore but it didn’t look good! After breakfast, and a cup of coffee I packed my things together (ensuring I had enough supplies to cycle the entire length of Britain!) and we set off in the car to Whitehaven. The journey was slow due to a mixture of early morning traffic and bad roads which was frustrating – I just wanted to get on with my adventure! Arriving in Whitehaven and following the signs to the Harbour we located a parking space and unloaded my bike! I was thrilled to see the C2C starting point monument on the slipway and gingerly made my way to it for the obligatory photos! (Unfortunately I forget to put on my helmet so I do not look like a professional cyclist in the photos!) Tradition dictates that you start the ride by dipping your back wheel in the Irish Sea and only ends when your front wheel gets a dip in the North Sea at the finish, so I made my way down to the sea from the monument, which proved a difficult task on a slippery slope wearing cleats! Obviously they wanted to challenge you right from the start … Unfortunately, in my eagerness to get the photo shoot over with and get on my way I dipped the front wheels in the sea at the start instead of my back wheels, so the photo’s look like I’m cycling off into the sea!! The next task was to find “The Zest Harbourside café” which was the first stamping point for my record card (this is a card to enable you to keep a record of your journey by calling into various allocated shops/cafes along the way to get the card stamped, timed and dated at the exact time you arrived at that point). This was easily located in the harbour square and a very friendly lady stamped, dated and put the starting time of 8.54am. on my card. She waved me off with a “Good luck” and “Enjoy”! I was sure I needed lots of the first but wasn’t too sure at this point whether I’d do the latter! The morning in Whitehaven was fairly bright with a nip in the air – I hoped it would stay this way, but this is England! Eventually I was on my way … Fearing that I wouldn’t locate the correct route and get lost before I began (especially bearing in mind my past track record!) I followed my husband’s car through the town where he guided me to the cycle path going behind the old “Focus” store. A quick wave good bye and I was now on my own … The adventure was about to begin! The cycle path soon went through a quiet housing estate, where I had to be careful to avoid broken glass and dog poo! (At this point I was pleased I’d changed my inner tubes to slime filled ones! The route soon joined the old railway heading towards Rowrah. This was a lovely flat but rough cycle path, although not ideal for a roadbike! My plan was to keep riding until I got to the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre where I would have my 1st food break. This would involve cycling about 26 miles. This 1st part of the route is really nice and gets you into the beautiful country side pretty quick but with the weather being warm but damp it meant that I was almost eaten alive by midges, and I probably ate alive just as many…!. I changed my plan, and decided I needed sustenance before attempting the first challenging hill up to Whinlatter and stopped for a quick banana, cereal bar and drink before setting off on my way! I made it up Whinlatter without too much effort and followed the C2C signs! However these signs soon tried to take me off road via the forest track (again not ideal for a road bike) so I did the sensible thing and stayed on the road to the visitor centre where the track rejoined the road and I was back on the official route! Leaving Whinlatter visitor centre there is a very steep long winding descent which made me ever so slightly nervous. However I survived and with absolutely stunning views around me I continued towards Keswick, on my approach to Keswick I took my first wrong turn and was dismayed to find after cycling several miles I was back to the junction where I’d turned off, creating a fabulous looped extension! . Confused with how I’d gone wrong, on my second attempt I didn’t turn off and soon arrived in Keswick, a picturesque little town. After touring Keswick looking for my second stamping point I gave it up as a bad job and continued on my way towards Penrith. I picked up an old railway track out of Keswick which takes you through woodland, over rivers and out towards to A66. I picked a nice place along this track to enjoy my lunch. Fortunately the route takes you alongside the A66 and not on it, as I had expected. A slight detour left takes you up and over some hills along a lovely quiet country road, the only downside being the numerous gates that barred my way, so it was a very stop and start ride but this gave me plenty opportunities to take photos – I even perfected taking them of myself, a task I have always struggled with! After cycling along more quiet country roads and lovely scenery, you take a left into Newton Rigg college which follows round and drops you into Penrith. Being familiar with Penrith I located my third stamping point with no problems and was soon on my way again up another steep hill! Conveniently, my parents live at the top of this hill so I was able to have a comfort stop and refill my water bottles before tackling the most challenging part of the ride – Hartside, however before reaching Hartside there was one last chance to take it easy going through many small picturesque villages before the serious stuff starts! Hartside has a climbing height of 1903 ft, and is apparently the half-way point of the C2C route. Although I had been warned about it I hadn’t been prepared for how never ending it would be!!! I equate it to a Disney queue – just when you think you are nearly there, there’s another bend and the top appears miles away!!! Legs burning and with the sheer determination not to stop and push I made it to the famous Hartside café at the top, the highest teashop in England and was looking forward to a cup of coffee and cake to reward my efforts – what a disappointment to discover it was closed! It was alos supposed to be my 4th record card stamping place – now what?! So hey-ho, I had another cereal bar and energy gel and took more photos to prove I’d been there before setting off on my travels again! What goes up must come down is the saying, and boy does this road come down. The descent from Hartside towards Alston and off towards Garrigill doesn’t disappoint. This went on for a good 15/20mins!!! Views coming down replicated the views going up only you could appreciate them a lot more now you’re sitting back free rolling! On my approach to garrigill I felt a car sitting behind me, I nervously slowed down and peered back to see who was stalking me to discover it was my husband making his way to our rendezvous point ! I stopped to chat and he suggested stopping Day one where we were and continuing from that point in the morning!!! I decided I wanted to continue to Nanthead as planned ; a decision I soon came to regret! Going through Garrigill I somehow missed the “On-road” route and mistakenly took the “Off-road” route , the book says “For those who like an extra challenge there is the tough route out of the village, up the very steep and rough track onto the B6277”, I cursed as I bounced along this awful track. I was pleased to see tarmac again, but there were no c2C signs so my poor navigation skills took over and I turned right onto the B6277! After a few miles I decided I was WRONG and got my map out – as I was trying to work out where the hell I was my husband who was wondering where I’d got to and so decided to search the nearby roads as there was no phone signal at this point, eventually stumbled upon me again and this time I DID agree to end Day one here at 7.03 pm after 10hours cycling covering 82 miles!

Day 2 – Wednesday 24th August 2011

Another early start but was keen to go and was surprised I wasn’t stiff or sore when I first got out of bed! We had studied the map the previous night and worked out where I had gone wrong! I was dropped off in the same place as I was picked up from and then had to retrace my steps from the day before to get me back on the right route! I had in my mind that this was going to be an easy day and it was all downhill from here – WRONG! It was soon back up hill with some very challenging climbs (Now I could really feel my legs!) including the highest point of the C2C route not long after Nenthead which is actually 609m above sea level. Again, the descent from this point is extremely steep and I was dismayed to see a cyclist warning sign warning it was a steep gradient with severe bends!! I took it slowly and was relieved to reach the bottom just with the smell of burning brakes! Heading out of Nenthead takes you up another climb, this time much more steeply, Forest woodland runs alongside you as you climb towards the Border of Northumberland. After a long slog you approach the brow of the hill to be greeted by a Welcome to Northumberland sign! Another photo opportunity not to be missed – luckily there was other cyclists there happy to oblige and take my photo! After Allenheads and Rookhope (I took the road route at Rookhope), I then came across another very challenging climb which was just on the outskirts of Stanhope Common, aptly called Crawley Side! Bear in mind that this point is almost the 100mile point of the C2C so any climb right now feels like you are climbing Everest, I made my way very slowly to the top, vowing to myself never to do another long distance cycle ride ever again! My morale was severely damaged when 2 elderly cyclists pedaled past me at ease half way up the hill – until I realized they were on electric bikes! In this moment of despair I silently hoped that their battery ran out before they reached the top! I soon turned off the main road and picked up the Waskerley Way, which is a disused railway track that stretches over moor land passing lakes and woodland. At this point I found a scenic spot to rest and have lunch. The track was not ideal for a road bike and I found this section difficult although the guide book described it as easy ride mainly downhill! I struggled down it all the way to Consett. This is where the C2C splits, with one route leading to Tynemouth and the other taking you to Sunderland. My major worry at this point was ending up in Sunderland so I paid close attention to the signs! The route takes you through Derwent Park before handing you a glimpse of the river Tyne; at this point I felt a massive sense of excitement knowing I was nearly there. The route takes you along the quayside (past lots of drinkers enjoying a cold pint in the sun!!) under the many bridges including the landmark Tyne Bridge and Millennium Eye eventually reaching the C2C official finishing point, which may I add is at the top of a slight hill! My husband was there to greet me and take more photos before I officially completed the route by dipping my front wheel in the sea! I completed day 2 at 4.47pm after 7 hours 32 minutes cycling! Phew I had made it and celebrated with a 99 ice-cream– a little saddle sore but elated that I had made it in 2 days after cycling for 18 hours and 1 minute covering 146 miles and only getting lost on 2 occasions - I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The C2C is an amazing route and will take you through some of the most amazing scenery in our country, and although you will feel like you will never want to go near a bike again, give it an hour or so and you’ll want to do it all again next year. I’m already planning which route I will do for my next challenge!



  1. I have always fancied doing a long distance bike ride like this, but at the moment I get exhausted just thinking about it. I must make the effort to get my bike out of mothballs. Good luck in the attempt whenever you do it. I will follow with interest.
    You have inspired me to do somemore exercise so thanks for that.

  2. Thank you Dianne. I have spent years trying to motivate my close family and friends and have failed miserably, to hear I have inspired a stranger made me smile! I just wish we would get some nice weather to cycle and run in!

  3. wish i had a bike now les ! you know you inspire me and i am very proud of all your hard work and to be so motivated to do what you do mostly on your own !!!! well done sweetie xxx

  4. Well done. I am so impressed. Sounds like a great ride.

  5. Thank you for your encouragement! I'm thinking about what to aim for during 2012 since my final challenge of 2011 is fast approaching! Definitely another long distance cycle ride as priority!